| Expert Advice > Careers
| These days there are almost TOO many choices for online Computer Science and IT degrees. Which tech-savvy degree should you choose? What’s the difference between a Computer Information Systems vs Computer Science major? IS there really any difference? If so, which one is best for which career paths?
If you’re having trouble choosing an IT degree path, start by asking yourself which of the following three career questions interests you most:
1. Why does the technology work?
2. How does the technology work?
3. What technology would work the best?
The question you find yourself most drawn to is a clue to which type of online degree you’d prefer when it comes to Computer Information Systems vs Computer Science.
Many of the online IT degrees offered today are related to Computer Science, Information Technology or Computer Information Systems. Each major shares much in common, but each also tends to focus on answering slightly different questions. These approaches translate, in turn, into different career paths.
Computer Science (Why does the technology work?)
The Lowdown: Computer Science focuses on teaching programming and computing. It is meant to give professionals foundational skills that can be applied towards any career in coding. It also provides an in-depth overview of how computer operating systems work.
Why You Might Like It: Computer Science is primarily about sharpening your programming abilities. You don’t just learn how to write code, but in the lesson plans for many online IT degrees you also learn why the code works on your computer the way it does.
A Computer Science major often focuses on programming and the underlying algorithms that make code work. As such, a fair amount of *gasp* math is involved (ex. Calculus, Discrete Mathematics, etc.). This degree major is especially math heavy at the undergraduate level. Some see all that math as a plus, but many do not. Why You Might Not:
Also, due to the programming focus, other subjects that may be of interest (ex. security, networking, etc.) are often only touched upon lightly in a pure Computer Science degree program.
Information Technology (How does the technology work?)
The Lowdown: Focuses more on the practical applications of computers in a work environment than Computer Science does. Computer Science is more about developing new types of technology, while Information Technology courses are more about learning how to take computer technology and put it to use in commercial environments.
Why You Might Like It: This major requires significantly less math when compared to Comp Science degrees. It still covers basic programming yet gives insight into other facets of IT. You can specialize in many applied tech areas such as networking, security, or database management if you don’t want to spend all your time writing code.
Why You Might Not: IT degrees usually cover far more topics than Computer Science degrees, which could limit your exposure to in-depth programming fundamentals. You may learn how to write for one type of programming, but it may be more difficult to change and learn another type later.
Information Systems (What technology would work best?)
The Lowdown: Information Systems as a major is tricky. This area is often known as Information Systems (IS), Computer Information Systems (CIS), Business Information Systems (BIS), and Management Information Systems (MIS). These online degrees cover the same topics as “IT” degrees, but each has a more business-related focus. Instead of learning just how technology works, IS students also learn to ask what type of technology should be used to solve a business problem.
Why You Might Like It: Where Computer Science goes deep into programming, IS degrees go broad and cover the “big picture”. Since people are part of many “systems”, these degrees often include business courses like project management or managerial communications.
The fact that it can cover so many different areas has a downside, too. Information Systems-related degrees will not give you the in-depth coding experience a CS degree will. Computer Information Systems degrees are offered by both technical colleges and business colleges across the country, so one IS program may not be like the other. Why You Might Not:
In some schools, Information Systems is taught through the business school, like Florida State University's Online College of Business. In others, like Nova Southeastern University Online, IS is taught as a Computer Science degree.
Compare online IT degrees and study plans. Which do you prefer? The business approach or the technology approach?
Review a school’s curriculum before you make a call!
About Guest Author David Handlos
In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.